Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a new virus impacting the nearly 1.4 million patients residing in nursing homes and rehab facilities across the U.S. These individuals include the elderly and severely disabled people who are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus. Coronavirus can lead to a respiratory illness with symptoms such as a cough, fever, and shortness of breath. In a growing number of cases, it can be more severe than the flu, and dying from the virus is much more likely for older and health-compromised people.
There is a select group carrying characteristics that put them at higher risk of illness and death related to an infectious disease due to cognitive limitations, which impair their ability to respond to an emergency. This group includes those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Unfortunately, dementia, a form of Alzheimer’s, is already “one of the only top-10 cause of death in the U.S. that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed,” says the Alzheimer’s Association. A growing majority of these individuals depend on care provided by others to manage their daily activities, medications, financial needs, and to keep them in safe environments and reside in nursing homes.
For those of you with loved ones battling Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, or those with restricted communication abilities, this may be an extremely challenging time. In an effort to reduce the spread of the virus in nursing homes, the federal government has restricted visitation to those who are only in compassionate care situations, such as end of life, and only if they show no signs/symptoms of COVID-19. We suggest reviewing these six tips for dementia caregivers of individuals who reside in assisted living or long-term care facilities during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Check with the facility regarding their procedures for managing COVID-19 risk and if you loved one fits the compassionate care profile.
- Ensure the facility leads have your emergency contact information and the information of another family member or friend as a backup.
- Put a plan in place for frequent communication between dementia residents and families about facility conditions, outbreaks, and individual resident updates.
- Do not request a special visit with your family member if you have any signs or symptoms of illness, even after visitor restrictions have lifted at the facility.
- Stay connected by sending cards and making daily video greetings that your dementia resident can receive with the help of a caretaker.
- “Visit” often and conversate through a window or glass door.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that dementia does not increase the risk for respiratory illnesses caused by the new coronavirus. However, people with dementia often have an increased age and other risky health conditions such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes that may increase their chances of being infected. The Alzheimer’s Association indicates that “people with Alzheimer’s disease and all other dementia may forget to wash their hands or take other recommended precautions to prevent illness. In addition, diseases like COVID-19 and the flu may worsen cognitive impairment due to dementia.”
Even in Crisis, Dementia Residents Still Have Rights
While nursing homes should be taking steps to prevent and control COVID-19 from entering or spreading the facility, families should know what to do if there are concerns about the facility’s infection control practices. You should be able to speak with the director of nursing or administrator about any coronavirus mitigation approaches they are taking and how they plan to adapt to providing care to dementia residents during anticipated disruptions. And remember, even during a crisis, your resident with dementia still has the right to:
- Receive the care and services needed to obtain their highest possible level of well-being.
- Participate in developing and implementing a person-centered plan of care that reflects personal and cultural preferences.
- Be free from abuse, neglect, exploitation, and misappropriation of resident property.
- Voice grievances without discrimination or retaliation, or the fear of it, and prompt efforts by the facility to resolve those grievances.
- Not be discharged or transferred except for certain reasons, to appeal the decision, and have a safe and orderly discharge/transfer if the resident leaves the facility.
Family members will have to stay vigilant in protecting their loved ones’ rights. In the case of a violation of these rights, contact a nursing home abuse and neglect attorney at Levin & Perconti and seek out extra support resources from these advocates.
- Caring Across Generations
- Center for Medicare Advocacy
- Justice in Aging
- Long Term Care Community Coalition (LTCCC)
- National Association of Local Long-Term Care Ombudsman (NALLTCO)
- National Association of State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs (NASOP)
- National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care
- Public Citizen
Understaffed Nursing Homes Will Struggle with Dementia Residents
Direct-care workers, such as aides and personal care attendants, provide most of the daily support to older adults battling dementia. Still, these are also the staff members at the front lines of battling COVID-19 inside a facility. They are responsible for bathing, feeding, medication administration, bathroom needs, dressing, housekeeping, food preparation, and other activities, jobs most of these workers feel are demanding and sometimes difficult on its own. In addition, to already being overworked and underpaid, it is likely there won’t be enough staff to care for all residents during this pandemic. Who will then be responsible for the prevention of injury and safety to those in their care? Will the person taking care of your loved one have the training or education necessary to provide dementia support and know how to communicate with them?
Information related to mitigating coronavirus transmission in nursing homes is changing rapidly. To be sure of all new long-term care and nursing home updates from federal agencies, review the Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Nursing Homes (REVISED) memorandum in its entirety released by CMS on March 13.
Speaking for Our Loved Ones with Dementia | Coronavirus Care
If you suspect elder abuse or neglect of any kind, please contact us for a free consultation with one of our experienced nursing home attorneys at Levin & Perconti. Together we will help determine if you have a case, notify the proper authorities, and vigorously pursue justice on your behalf. There is a statute of limitations for filing elder abuse cases in the state of Illinois, so please contact us as soon as you are ready by calling 312-332-2872.
Does your loved one still have rights? The answer is yes. They still have the right to receive the care and services needed to obtain their highest possible level of wellbeing. They still have the right to participate in developing and implementing the individual-centered plan of care that reflects personal and cultural preferences. This includes the resident’s right to make decisions about their care now and in the future, such as what treatment they might want related to COVID-19. They have the right to be free from abuse and neglect, exploitation and misappropriation of property. They have the right to voice grievances without discrimination or retaliation, or the fear of it, and prompt efforts by the facility to resolve those grievances.
They have the right not to be discharged or transferred except for certain reasons to appeal any decisions and have a safe and orderly discharge or transfer, if the resident needs to leave the facility. If you have any additional questions, you can still reach our attorneys at Levin & Perconti. We are staying safe and working largely remotely, but all of the calls to our main office could be routed to individual attorneys or staff members, if you have questions. Or you can email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, that’s email@example.com. My name is Mike Bonamarte and I appreciate your time. Please stay safe.